Imagine going to school each day and entering a classroom filled with students who are eager to explore mathematical ideas, willing to embrace failure and struggle, and persistent with any math problem you give them. As teachers, we have often been led to believe that the greatest math lessons come about when we have good curriculum materials and interesting tasks — those are important, without doubt, but the new science of the brain is telling us that engaged and successful students come about when students believe they have unlimited potential and that they can learn anything.
Studies even show that our brains grow the most when we’re struggling and challenged, and if you believe in yourself, as a teacher or a student, your brain will grow more when you encounter challenge than if you doubt your potential (see a 1-minute video explaining that below).
Have you ever watched comedies like Meet the Fockers or Medea’s Family Reunion, when two families tackle the painstaking task of trying to become one family unit? It’s an insightful peek into how difficult it can be for an outsider to adopt a new set of family customs, beliefs, and ways of “being.”
This same journey occurs every year across the country when teachers join a new school community. Whether it’s a new teacher’s first job or a veteran transitioning into a new organization, joining a new faculty can be as anxiety-ridden as newlyweds meeting the in-laws for the first time.
At Gestalt Community Schools in Memphis, Tennessee, our D3 Teacher Leadership Program designed the role of the Culture Broker, someone who sets out to create opportunities for staff members to share in positive experiences, to assist in eliminating the added stress of being the “new person” in the building. One of the ways we’re doing that is by using Teaching Channel Teams to share practice.
I was a proud mother when I began texting my adult children several years ago and thought that was quite slick, but I was naïve and deficient in the understanding and use of social media and technology in the classroom. Then a whole new world opened up to me through Teaching Channel and Teaching Channel Teams. When engagement manager Paul Teske came to Woodburn, the challenge of learning new technology and communicating via digital media was upon me.
At 6:00 AM on a drizzling Seattle morning, I found myself in a warehouse with barbells, kettlebells, squatting racks, exercise balls, and ropes and gymnastic rings hanging from a 20-foot ceiling. I had just joined what I used to dismiss as the Cult of CrossFit. This was clearly not going to be my grandma’s workout.
After teaching fifth grade for nine years, I was ready for a change. Not because I didn’t enjoy the fifth grade content or the students — I was looking for a new experience. I wanted to expand my knowledge and experience for my own professional growth.
After talking with my administrator, we agreed that I would move down to primary and start the year teaching a 2nd/3rd grade combo class. He didn’t believe this combo class would stay long, and that I would more than likely end up a straight second grade teacher. And it happened just like that. I taught the combo for the first quarter, and then at the start of the second quarter, I was a second grade teacher with adorable seven year olds to teach. What was this experience like? Amazingly overwhelming!
For too many years, I used to think my classes would either have good chemistry, or they wouldn’t. Sometimes there was a group of students who just clicked, but more often than not, students don’t know each other when we begin together. And even though my department offers our students many courses to choose from, they are always filling a requirement when they come to one of my English classes. Some bring their natural enthusiasm, others their implicit skepticism, and at least a few always have to be won over. Finally, I decided to get honest with myself, to take a step back and look at why some classes just “had it” and others didn’t. That honest look taught me some careful lessons about class chemistry.
First of all, it wasn’t about chemistry at all; rather it was about culture. And when I realized that difference, I realized why some classes clicked and others didn’t: I was counting on it to just happen, rather than setting out to create it. Over time I learned that culture is something learned, that we have to work at it, that I have to speak it in order to live it. This week we’re highlighting a series of videos that take a look at the lessons I learned.
Building classroom culture is something we tend to think a lot about at the beginning of the year, but it’s just as important to maintain and nurture it throughout the year. For this month’s chat, we want to talk about how you set up your classroom culture, how you maintain the things that are working, and how you change the things that don’t.
This #TchLIVE chat will be on Thursday, March 26th at 4pm PDT.
The subject for February’s #TchLIVE Twitter chat was motivation. We all need it and we all find it in a variety of places. When you’re having a tough class, day, or week, where do you turn for motivation?
Read the Chat Archive
Editor’s Note: Math teachers across the country are learning about the power of formative assessment in their classrooms. In this video series, we bring you an opportunity to see formative assessment in action, with the help of math consultant Ann Shannon and resources from the Mathematics Assessment Project (MAP). Ann provided the initial training for teachers in Kentucky’s Kenton County on how to implement MAP and frameworks from the Math Design Collaborative. She observed teachers in the classroom, gave real-time feedback, helped facilitate the after school meetings to analyze student work, and helped build capacity in the district so that the work would be sustainable.
As teachers, sometimes we talk too much. We might do more of the telling, and have kids do less of the doing. Personally, I’ve always been someone who loves explaining things to people, so as a teacher this was an easy trap to fall into. I might get halfway through a unit of study, sense that my students are struggling, and decide that the best way to solve their misconceptions was to talk even more. Telling them what to do seemed easier, faster, and more direct. But in fact, that was my own misconception! Sometimes, the best way to help our students is to subtly guide them through their own struggles.
In our series Engaging Students with Productive Struggles, we took you inside two middle school math classrooms that are using formative assessment to do just that. We saw seventh graders deepening their understanding of proportional relationships, and eighth graders tackling the work of linear equations. Now in this new set of videos, we visit Meghan Mekita’s geometry classroom to watch her tenth graders deepen their understanding of transformations.
In these four videos, you’ll see Meghan’s students engaging in a formative assessment lesson that addresses their misconceptions and moves them forward in their learning.
Often times as educators, we are asked to incorporate something into our instruction that we might not necessarily understand or know how to teach. We might get a short professional development session on the topic, a little drive-by PD action, and then there is an expectation to implement the content with little to no further support. Sound familiar? When put into these types of situations, teachers have a choice: the more challenging “figure out how to make it work” approach, or the more easily abandoned “this is an obstacle I don’t want to overcome” method. Which path do you choose?
This scenario represents two types of mindsets found in schools, with adults and with students. More and more, teachers are being asked to not only support the growth mindset of their learners, but also explicitly teach the associated skills. Carol Dweck’s video on growth mindset clearly illustrates why students need these skills, but where should teachers begin? The answer is to start with yourself.
When was the last time that, as a teaching professional, you pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone? When did you last engage the mindset skills needed to take ownership of your own learning? Isn’t that really what we’re asking students to do when engaging in deeper learning? Do you remember how hard it can be to learn something new, and have the persistence to continue that learning over a long period of time? Better yet, wouldn’t it be great if there were a tool to help you remember?